Why education funding matters now more than ever

Why education funding matters now more than ever

Why education funding matters now more than ever
Short Url

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Development Bank, we celebrate partnerships that have allowed us to double down on our efforts to help empower people, build their lives, and contribute meaningfully to their communities. 

The Smarter Financing for Education launched in 2021 is one partnership that has yielded half a billion dollars to help millions of children get quality education that is so critical to prosperity, peace, and security. 

Through SmartEd, we have mobilized $400 million in loan financing from the IsDB and the Arab Coordination Group — a grouping of Arab development funds — and $100 GPE Multiplier grant resources to provide $500 million in education financing for 37 member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation where 28 million children are out of school. This funding comes at a critical time when education budgets are dwindling in lower-income countries as they grapple with debts, socio-economic crises, and the lasting impact of COVID-19. 

Since 2020, education budgets in nearly half of lower-income countries have dropped by an average of 14 percent. There has also been a decline in foreign aid to education. According to recent data by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, official development assistance to education dropped to under 10 percent of total aid in the first year of the pandemic from nearly 12 percent a decade earlier. The GPE Multiplier Grant is an incentivizing financing model that leverages $3 from other donors for every $1 mobilized from GPE to boost education funding and support education transformation in lower-income countries. As an additional incentive, the SmartEd financing model leverages $4 co-financing from ACG institutions for every $1 of the GPE multiplier grant. 

The GPE has exceeded its $3.5 billion multiplier grant financing target for 2025 — two years earlier than projected while helping 44 low- and middle-income countries increase access to quality education. With demand exceeding expectations, the $500 million allocated to SmartEd for 2023-2025 is quickly running out following the allocation of $350 million to Cameroon, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Uzbekistan. Only $150 million remains to support 37 OIC member countries for the program’s final year, underscoring the urgent need for additional resources.

To build on the success of SmartEd and sustain momentum, the bolstering of our collective commitment to quality education on this landmark occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the IsDB is imperative. This imperative finds urgency against the backdrop of an astonishing 250 million children who are out of school worldwide, most of them in lower-income countries. 

Education quality is adversely impacted as well. An estimated 70 percent of those finishing primary school cannot do basic math or read and understand a simple story. The World Bank’s Human Capital Index of 2020 projects that nearly 60 percent of children born now will be only half as productive as they could be with complete education and full health. 

Aggravated by limited resources, learners in the education system of many OIC member countries are learning far less than required to be relevant and competitive in a dynamic 21st-century global labor market. An encouraging and rising number of these countries in need, recognize SmartEd as offering hope for education transformation to resolve lingering education crises and accelerating progress toward the attainment of the UN’s sustainable development goal. 

It is no coincidence that we are celebrating SmartEd’s success in Saudi Arabia, a country that has made great strides in giving its children the skills they need to achieve its Vision 2030 of creating a thriving economy where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. 

Saudi Arabia can offer lower-income member countries of the OIC not only vital resources to finance quality education but also the know-how to build the human capital that powers tomorrow’s economy. Remarkably, the Kingdom has joined GPE with a contribution of $38 million to support education transformation in lower-income countries for human capital development for the 21st century.

The GPE takes the opportunity of this auspicious occasion to reaffirm its strong commitment to SmartEd and formally announce an additional $50 million multiplier grant allocation for this unique partnership initiative. We are confident that our ACG institution partners will also reaffirm their commitment and announce their respective additional co-financing for SmartEd to mobilize the required matching $200 million for GPE’s additional $50 million multiplier grant.  

Financing quality education is not an option; it is a necessity and collective responsibility in our partnership. Together, we will continue to innovate education financing so that every boy and girl can access the quality education they need to learn, prosper, and face the challenges of a rapidly changing world. 

• Dr. Muhammad Sulaiman Al-Jasser is the chairman of the IsDB Group.

Laura Frigenti is chief executive officer of the Global Partnership for Education.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view